Planning For The “Longpath,” According To Ari Wallach

With our attention spans getting shorter and our global, civilization-scale problems growing larger, it’s time we started thinking about the future. In a TED Talk from October 2016, strategic consultant Ari Wallach offered three ways people can develop long-term plans – thinking ten or 20 years out, instead of just six months or only a few weeks.

Short-termism, for many reasons, has pervaded every nook and cranny of our reality,” he said. “If we want to move forward into a different future than the one we have right now … there’s some more we can do. But my argument is that unless we shift our mental models and our mental maps on how we think about the short, it’s not going to happen.”

Through the practice of what Wallach has termed “longpath,” individuals will be able to more effectively plan for the future by employing three different ways of thinking – for each major decision they make.

Transgenerational thinking

Rather than using a single lifetime as a unit of measurement for planning, Wallach promotes the idea of making decisions while taking into account the impact your choices will make on future generations – and encouraging them to engage in that process with you.

“What it does is it connects them here in the present, but it also – and this is the crux of transgenerational thinking ethics – it sets them up to how they’re going to interact with their kids and their kids and their kids,” Wallach said.

Via Ted-Ed on Youtube.

Futures thinking

This step involves considering all kinds of potential future possibilities – and reflecting on the different kinds of solutions that could be employed to address them. Too often, Wallach said, people make overly optimistic assumptions that most of the planet’s current problems will be resolved in the future, in some “techno-utopia.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s something that we have to really think deeply about if we’re going to move on these major issues, because it wasn’t always like this,” Wallach said. “We have to rethink our base assumption about only looking at the future in one way, only looking at it through the dominant lens. Because our problems are so big and vast that we need to open ourselves up.”

Telos thinking

Telos is a Greek word meaning “ultimate aim” or “ultimate purpose.” For Wallach, employing this kind of thinking means asking ourselves what will come after we’ve resolved a particular problem.

“When was the last time you asked yourself: to what end? And when you asked yourself that, how far out did you go?” Wallach said. “Because long isn’t long enough anymore. Three, five years doesn’t cut it. It’s 30, 40, 50, 100 years.”

The goal of this kind of thinking, this “longpath” outlook on decision-making, comes with its own challenges. According to Wallach, the process can even be uncomfortable in the beginning. However, continuing to apply this practice enables people to “push past” their own lives, Wallach said – “because it makes you do things a little bit bigger than you thought were possible.” And by doing things bigger, we can all make a difference.

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